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breaking out of the rooster coop: violent crime in aravind adigas WHITE TIGER and richard wrights NATIVE

SON

Sara D. Schotland
White Tiger, the winner of the 2008 Man Booker prize, has much in common with Richard Wrights Native Son. Both Balram Halwi and Bigger Thomas are born into sharply divided societies where the lower classes struggle in dire poverty without hope of advancement.1 While at rst blush neither novel ts the usual postcolonial mold since Native Son is set in the United States and White Tiger involves a native master, in fact both novels reect a Manichean duality of rich/master/powerful and poor/servant/oppressed. To date, there is little published scholarship on White Tiger or mention of its debt to Wright. A comparison proves very fruitful, however, because both novels examine the extent to which poverty, frustration, hopelessness, and humiliation gure into the complex of causes that result in violent crime. Both Bigger and Balram turn to violence to escape the oppression that relentlessly threatens their aspirations for livelihood and manhood. Both men bite the hands that feed them by committing acts of homicide: far from repenting the loss of life, each justies it as an existential act. Balram goes so far as to justify murder as comparable to the misdeeds routinely engaged in by senior government ofcials and successful businessmen as they climb to the top. The novels invite comparison in spite of the fact that they take place seventy years apart in different continents and in widely different cultures. Each can be understood as postcolonial in that each describes an unbridgeable chasm between marginalized, impoverished populations and dominant wealthy elites who mimic colonizers.

comparative literature studies, vol. 48, no. 1, 2011. Copyright 2011 The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

White Tiger invites us to consider the relationship between inequality and violent crime. Is violent crime a protest against conditions of oppression? More crucially, is it excused by such conditions? Aravind Adiga tells the shocking, apparently amoral story of a young man who brutally murders his employerand gets away with it. Adiga explains in an interview that serves as a coda to the novel that he was strongly inuenced by Richard Wright.2 There are many parallels between Adigas protagonist, Balram Halwai, and Wrights antihero in Native Son, Bigger Thomas.3 Bigger, who has grown up in the slums of Chicago and nally gets a decent job as chauffeur to the kindly Dalton family, strangles their daughter Mary. Balram, who has grown up in the Darkness of Laxmanargh and becomes a chauffeur for a wealthy Indian, murders his benevolent employer Ashok. Balram lives in a hopeless world where legitimate opportunity is foreclosed. This resourceful if unprincipled individual resorts to violence because he sees no other way to get ahead. Neither Bigger nor Balram feels remorse: in both instances the killings give rise to a sense of newfound freedom and existential identity. Despite the similarities and Adigas acknowledgment of debt, there are signicant differences between the two works. Unlike Biggers killing of Mary Dalton, which is largely accidental, Balrams crime, which involves robbery as well as murder, is a premeditated act of violence. Bigger is executed at the end of Native Son; in contrast, Balram uses the money that he has stolen to start a taxi service and becomes a successful entrepreneur. In White Tiger, crime pays. Balram becomes the new master, enriching himself but at the same time perpetuating a neocolonial structure. The philosophy of Frantz Fanon has profoundly inuenced Adiga, as is evident in White Tiger. In Fanons landmark work, Les damns de la terre [The Wretched of the Earth], published in 1961, twenty-one years after Native Son, he writes that revolutionary violence is a constructive means for the liberation and self-expression of colonized people. Fanon identies three stages that postcolonial writers go through: the assimilation stage, the adaptation stage, and the ghting stage when the writer produces une littrature de combat, une littrature rvolutionnaire, une littrature nationale [a ghting literature, a revolutionary literature, a national literature].4 On Fanons matrix, White Tiger is a third-stage novel. Adiga describes a diseased society where corruption siphons off money needed for schools, the environment, and public works. At the same time, the tentacles of the Indian family exercise a stranglehold over those who seek to establish an independent life. I examine two related questions: Why does Balram murder Ashok? What is achieved by the act of violence? Balrams act of murder and theft tests the viability of Fanons theory of constructive violence. This essay considers

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whether Balrams violence is a purgative creative act or rather results in a new incarnation of the master-servant dyad that is barely distinguishable from the old order. In important respects, Balrams neocolonialism ends up mimicking the old order against which he revolts.

Life in the Darkness Both Native Son and White Tiger illustrate the Manichean model of power relations that Fanon compellingly described in The Wretched of the Earth. As Abdul JanMohamed comments, colonial societies are characterized by opposing binaries between white and black, good and evil, superiority and inferiority, civilization and savagery, intelligence and emotion, rationality and sensuality, self and Other, subject and object.5 In Biggers Chicago there is an absolute divide between white and black: We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we aint. They do things and we cant. Its just like living in jail. Half the time I feel like Im on the outside of the world peeping in through a knot-hole in the fence (20). There is an unbridgeable gap between the haves and the have-nots: Well, they own everything. They choke you off the face of the earth. They like God. . . . They after you so hot and hard you can only feel what they doing to you. They kill you before you die (353). Bigger would have liked to be in business. But what chance has a black guy got in business? We aint got no money. We dont own no mines, no railroads, nothing. They dont want us to (354). I agree with Christine MacLeods claim that the black experience in America can be appropriately analyzed as postcolonial if the historical experiences of rupture, exile, subjugation, social marginality, and linguistic and cultural dispossession count for anything in the denition of a colonized identity.6 Yet Native Son also reects Wrights humanism: sympathy for the disinherited and oppressed that transcends difference in color and that would condemn black as well as white prejudice. Bigger is a violent young man with a pathological split personality.7 Wright, a naturalist, illustrates how Bigger was constructed by social, economic, and psychological forces beyond his control.8 Bigger is like one of the rats who infests his familys miserable apartment. His mother hounds him to nd a job: We wouldnt have to live in this garbage dump if you had any manhood in you (8). Bigger hated his family because he knew they were suffering and he was powerless to help them (10). Far from deterring him from crime, Biggers family precipitates his spiral into

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

violence as he seeks to assert his masculinity. Bigger is hired as a chauffeur by an apparently well-intentioned family, the Daltons, who have a reputation as philanthropists. One night, Mary Dalton asks Bigger to drive her to a tryst with her Communist boyfriend. Mary invites Bigger to share drinks and socialize with them, an invitation that makes him uncomfortable but which he cannot avoid accepting. The evening ends in tragedy when Bigger returns Mary, who is thoroughly intoxicated, to her bedroom. At just the wrong moment, as Bigger puts Mary on the bed and he begins to kiss her, Marys blind mother enters the room. In terror, Bigger strangles the girl and then hurriedly burns her corpse in the furnace. In over his head, Bigger writes a clumsy ransom note, seeking to extort money from the Daltons by pretending their daughter is still alive. Bigger then murders his girlfriend Bessie out of fear that she will divulge his crimes. Eventually Marys bones are discovered in the ashes of the furnace. Far from feeling remorse, Bigger is exhilarated; for him, Marys killing is an existential act that gives him a sense of freedom and identity. Native Son is the rare novel about which we have much information concerning authorial intentionality. In his preface entitled How Bigger Was Born, Wright describes ve violent young black men who were the sources for his protagonist. These outlaw Biggers were the only ones who had the courage to violate the Jim Crow laws: The Bigger Thomases were the only Negroes I know of who consistently violated the Jim Crow laws of the South and got away with it, at least for a sweet brief spell. Eventually, the whites who restricted their lives made them pay a terrible price. They were shot, hanged, maimed, lynched, and generally hounded until they were either dead or their spirits broken. (437) Wright is describing what Fanon calls ce monde coup en deux et habit par des espces differentes [a world cut in two and occupied by two different species]: In Dixie there are two worlds, the white world and the black world, and they are physically separated. There are white schools and black schools, white churches and black churches, white businesses and black businesses, white graveyards and black graveyards, and, for all I know, a white God and a black God (437).9 Biggers experiences in this dual world elicit a nationalistic complex: Bigger was attracted and repelled by the American scene. He was an American, because he was a native son; but he was also a Negro nationalist in a vague sense because he was not allowed to live as an American. Such was his way of life and mine; neither Bigger nor I resided

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fully in either camp (450). Bigger inhabits a No-Mans land, hovering unwanted between two worldsbetween powerful America and his own stunted place in life (450). Like Bigger, Balram is born in grinding poverty, in a world known as the Darkness (12). Notwithstanding the corrupt governments propaganda about the Indian paradise, Balram grows up in a world of defunct electricity poles, broken water taps, and children too lean and too short (16). His father is a rickshaw driver with a spine like a knotted rope and a clavicle like a dogs collar; he dies spitting up blood against the walls of a doctorless hospital (42). To borrow a phrase from another writer who inuenced Adiga, James Baldwin, Balram lives in another country. The Darkness is a cesspool: the rivers are contaminated with feces, straw, soggy parts of human bodies, buffalo carrion and seven different kinds of industrial acids (12). India Radio boasts that India will defeat China, even though it does not have sewage or drinking water, because it is a democracy (20). Sardonically, Balram remarks that if I were making a country, Id get the sewage pipes rst, then the democracy, then Id go about giving pamphlets and statutes of Gandhi to other people, but what do I know? Im just a murderer! (80). Balram begins his life as the ultimate cipher, not only faceless in society but anonymous even within his own family, where he is called Munna (Boy). As Balram explains to the teacher who names him after Krishnas follower, Balrams parents did not have time to give him a proper name: his father is too busy pulling rickshaws and his mother too busy spitting up blood and dying (10). Balrams schooling is a pitiful joke; the underpaid teacher has sold off food, uniforms, and supplies. Like many other Indians in the aptly named Darkness, Balram is half-baked because his education was aborted (44). In Balrams world, as in Biggers, there is a grand canyon between rich and poor: India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness. (12). Without education, most Indians have no chance of securing meaningful work. In the Darkness, every morning, tens of thousands of young men sit in the teashops, reading the newspaper. . . . They have no job to do today. They know they wont get any job today. Theyve given up the ght (4546). It is no wonder that when Balram becomes a rich entrepreneur, his favorite decorative item is the chandelier (5, 97); literally and guratively, he dispels the Darkness. Adiga describes life in the Darkness through a series of animal metaphors, recalling Fanons analogy of oppressed subjects to animals. In the upside-down world of the Darkness, human beings are degraded and, if they are of the wrong caste, they have a lower status than animals.

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

The most important person in Balrams family is the water buffalo; it is the fattest thing in the family and the dictator of our house (17). Balram and his brother are sent by their selsh and tyrannical grandmother to work in teashopsthe occupation of their caste. The men who work there are human spiders; they crawl among the tables with rags in their hands, crushed human beings in crushed uniforms (43). When Balram lands a relatively decent job as a chauffeur for the Ashok family, his fellow servant advises him to pamper the familys pet dogs: They are worth more than you are!(67). Ashok is inordinately fond of his Pomeranians and shows off their pictures as a parent might his children (179). Balram understands Ashoks desires the way that dogs understand their master (94). Dogs and humans of the lower class are interchangeable. After Ashoks wife Pinky Madam recklessly runs down a living creature on a highway, the Ashoks wonder whether what she has killed was a child or a dog (138). Balrams fellow chauffeurs crouch like monkeys as they humbly wait for their masters; Balram calls them the monkey circle (17072). While poor Indians are donkeys, dogs, and monkeys, Ashoks exploitive father and brothers are identied with more aggressive, larger, or devious animals; they are known as the Buffalo, the Stork, the Raven, and the Mongoose (20, 21, 64). Adiga adopts the metaphor of the rooster coop to describe the relationship between crime, caging, and rebellion. Indians are packed together in a cage, unable to breathe or move: The greatest thing to come out of this country in the ten thousand years of its history is the Rooster Coop. . . . Hundreds of pale hens and brightly colored roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages, packed as tightly as worms in a belly, pecking each other and shitting on each other, jostling just for breathing space. (147) The cage reeks with a terrible stench: a young butcher is killing off the roosters. Yet the roosters do not try to escape: The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know theyre next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. The very same thing is done with human beings in this country (147). Parodying Churchill, Balram sardonically remarks, never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many (149). A handful of men . . . have trained the remaining 99.9 percentas strong, as talented, as intelligent in every wayto exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a mans hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse (149).

BREAKING OUT OF THE ROOSTER COOP

Why do poor Indians remain conned in their coop generation after generation? Balram points the nger at the all-important family: The Indian family is the reason we are tied to the coop. . . . Only a man who is prepared to see his family destroyedhunted, beaten, and burned alive by the masterscan break out of the coop (150). No normal human being, only a freak, a pervert of nature, will jeopardize his family (150). In Biggers Chicago, blacks remain suppressed as a result of racial oppression and religious passivity; in Balrams India, it is the family that tightens the wires of the rooster coop. In a passage redolent of Foucault, Adiga illustrates how fellow servants discipline the outlier by repressing his individuality. For example, Balram is ridiculed by another chauffeur when he engages in meditation: The Rooster Coop was doing its work. Servants have to keep other servants from becoming innovators, experimenters, or entrepreneurs. Yes, thats the sad truth. . . . The coop is guarded from the inside (166). What is it about Balram that allows him to break out of the rooster coop while his fellows remain trapped for the rest of their lives? Balram resists life as a spider or a donkey or a dog. He develops the erceness and courage to revolt. He becomes a tiger capable of taking down the landowner caste menagerie of boars, storks, and buffaloes. When Balram was a young boy, a school ofcial gave him the moniker white tiger because alone among a jungle of thugs and idiots, Balram was uniquely intelligent, honest, and vivacious (30). A white tiger is of course a great rarity. As an adult, Balrams courage and refusal to be contained differentiates him from fellow servants who remain in the coop. Balrams new nickname operates as a multilayered pun because it calls to mind the entrepreneurial Asian tiger economies of South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. The tiger metaphor is the key to Balrams character: he is absolutely unwilling to remain in the cage to which he is assigned by family, caste, and society: There is a sign in the National Zoo in New Delhi, near the cage with the white tiger, which says: Imagine yourself in the cage. When I saw the sign, I thought, I can do thatI can do that with no trouble at all (150).

Why Does the Crime Occur? There is a signicant difference between the crimes in Native Son and White Tiger in that Biggers killing of Mary Dalton was unpremeditated. Biggers rst crime results from a chain of events: Marys desire to give her parents

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES

the slip and go out with her boyfriend; her insistence that Bigger socialize and drink with them; her boyfriends decision to leave Mary with Bigger although she was completely inebriated; the temptation of Bigger when he nds himself alone with Mary in her bedroom and begins to kiss her; the accidental intrusion of Mrs. Dalton, which terries Bigger into strangling the girl.10 Had any of the links in this chain of fatal causation been broken, Mary would not have been killed. On the one hand, the murder was accidental and induced by Mrs. Daltons chance appearance; on the other hand it was also an act of rebellion that Bigger regards as a positive achievement.11 In Biggers own words; Though he had killed by accident, not once did he feel the need to tell himself that it was an accident. . . . He had killed many times before, only on those other times there had been no handy victim (106). After the murder Bigger explains that he feels reborn; his whole life was caught up in a supreme and meaningful act; he feels more alive than he has ever felt before (111, 116, 141). Richard Wright answers the question of why Bigger commits his crime as follows: But why did Bigger revolt? No explanation based upon a hard and fast rule of conduct can be given. But there were always two factors psychologically dominant in his personality. First, through some quirk of circumstance, he had become estranged from the religion and the folk culture of his race. Second, he was trying to react to and answer the call of the dominant civilization whose glitter came to him through the newspapers, magazines, radios, movies, and the mere imposing sight and sound of daily American life. (439) Bigger undergoes a psychological transformation: he has become empowered psychologically even though his body will undergo the ultimate discipline of execution. As a result of the murder Bigger quite literally nds his voice: He wanted suddenly to stand up and shout, telling them that he had killed a rich white girl, a girl whose family was known to all of them (130). At the end of the novel, Bigger proclaims a victory that appalls his own lawyer: Bigger endorses killing as an act of self-denition. I didnt want to kill! But what I killed for I am! (429). I didnt know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill for em (429). The verdict that Bigger gives his own action is that he can feel all right about what he has done (429) if only because he did it: he took charge of his own life and responded to the violence that had suppressed him with an act of violent protest. The reader may be as horried as Biggers lawyer, Max, that Bigger identies murder as the single act that has given meaning to his life.

BREAKING OUT OF THE ROOSTER COOP

In contrast to the hesitant and fearful Bigger who kills Mary Dalton in a state of panic, Balram commits an act of premeditated murder to achieve his destiny as an entrepreneur. To become a master rather than a servant, Balram must kill. There is no other way for Balram to break out of the cage that connes him. When Balram takes his nephew to the zoo in New Delhi, just before the murder, he goes straight to the enclosure where the white tiger is caged behind bamboo bars: He was walking in the same line, again and againfrom one end of the bamboo bars to the other, then turning around and repeating it over, at exactly the same pace, like a thing under a spell. He was hypnotizing himself by walking like thisthat was the only way he could tolerate this cage (237). On the eve of the killing, Balram writes his demanding grandmother a sort of apology for his refusal to knuckle under her demands and marry a girl who will bring a cash dowry that the grandmother would no doubt appropriate, as she did when Balrams brother married: I cant live my life in a cage, Granny, Im so sorry (239). Balrams cold-blooded killing of Ashok follows a period of employment in which he has bonded with his masterin contrast to Bigger, who hardly knew the Daltons. Ashok is in general a benevolent employer, who expresses concern about Balrams living conditions and pays him decent wages (70, 100102, 201). To Ashok, Balram may be stupid as hell but he is honest and therefore should be valued in his designated role as driver and factotum (179). Just as Mrs. Dalton was physically blind, Ashok, although sighted, is blind to the wheels that are clicking inside Balrams head. However, a turning point comes when Pinky Madam runs over a child on a highway while driving drunk. The Ashoks demand that Balram sign a false confession; they expect that Balram will take the rap and go to jail loyal as a dog (145). While ultimately the hit-and-run charge is xed and Balram does not end up serving time, it is an incident he will never forget. Although Ashok and Balram had formed a sort of bond, when the rubber met the road and an accident occurred, Ashok was ready to coerce Balram into giving up his implicitly worthless life so that Pinky Madam could escape the consequences of her transgressions. Balram murders Ashok not only to pay back his employer for his readiness to send him to jail for a crime his wife committed but also to rail against the humiliation that his family has suffered. When Balram thinks back to his mothers funeral, to his fathers death and his brothers wasted life, his ngers tighten into a strangling grip on the wheel (163). Ashok is not responsible for the misfortunes of Balrams family, but their suffering fuels Balrams resentment against the master class. Balrams crime is also triggered by anxiety that he will shortly lose his relatively well-paying job. When Ashok takes to drink after his wife

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leaves him, and wonders whether his life is worth living, Balram silently responds: The point of living? My heart pounded. The point of your living is that if you die, whos going to pay me three and half thousand rupees a month? (159). Ironically, here it is not the servant who is devalued but the master: Ashoks life is worth nothing to himself and nothing to Balram except as a paycheck. Ashok loses Balrams affection and respect by becoming like other masters who visit whores and drink too much. When he thinks of his masters sordid indelity, Balram becomes so angry that he almost chokes another chauffeur (193). Balram now begins to siphon off petrol and to steal from Ashok in other petty ways. After Ashoks new girlfriend urges him to seek a replacement driver, Balram concludes that his days of employment are numbered (229). He acts before he is sacked. The murder weapon is a broken bottle of Johnny Walker Blackthe drink of Indias elite. Homi Bhabhas theory of mimicry helps explain an apparent paradox: that Balram kills a man whom he not only admires but also imitates.12 Bhabha describes the interplay between the colonizer who seeks to exercise control and dominance and the colonized who seek to mimic the colonizer. In the course of mimicry, there is a slippage that ends in the erosion of the authority of the colonizer. As the colonized begin to unravel the oppositions that ordinarily elevate the master, there is space for subversive resistance to develop and for colonial power to be circumvented. Balram at rst looks at his handsome master in the rearview mirror with an admiring gaze (38). The two men become so close that they can even trade places: at one point in the novel, Ashok gets into the drivers seat and Balram becomes the passenger (94). Balram wants to drink the same scotch that Ashok drinks, shop at the same mall where Ashok shops, sleep with blond women as Ashok sleeps with blond women. As Balram comes closer and closer to aping Ashoks behavior, and Ashoks own personal conduct deteriorates, the authority of the supposed superior is undermined and Balrams relative sense of power increases. When Ashok goes to pick up a whore, Balram gives him an insubordinate, disparaging look that says Are you sure you want to do this? (185). When Ashoks new girlfriend talks about replacing Balram, the chauffeur looks at him in the mirror to confront him man to man; ashamed, Ashok refuses to meet his eyes (229). Balram refuses to remain subject to Ashoks disciplinary gaze: the moment of his violent rebellion has arrived. Balram commits a crime of theft as well as a crime of violence when he steals 700,000 rupees that Ashok was taking to the hypocritical leader (the Great Socialist) to avoid payment of taxes. Balram rationalizes that in a sense he is not stealing but reclaiming the funds that would be his

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but for corruption and tax evasion. In her landmark work, Gayatri Spivak draws attention to voiceless subalternsthe day laborers, homeless, and unemployed.13 This is the class to which Balrams father, a rickshaw driver, belonged. The Great Socialist purports to speak for men of the lower class but without doubt is interested only in his own wealth and power. For Adiga the corruption that pervades Indian society is a malignant evil: Just ask any Indian, rich or poor, about corruption here. Its bad. It shows no sign of going away either. As to what lies in Indias futurethats one of the hardest questions to answer.14 Neither religion nor family check Balrams criminal impulses.15 Religion is a travesty. In India there are 360 million gods, plus the Muslim God and the Christian trinity (6). God asks the Indian: Isnt it all wonderful? Isnt it grand? Arent you grateful to be my servant? (75). Balram imagines a little black man wearing a khaki uniform who is spitting at God again and again out of anger that the world was created in this particular way, instead of all the other ways it could have been created (75). Balram is aware that Ashoks relatives will murder his entire family as revenge for the crime but that is no deterrence. Family is a burden, especially in the persona of Balrams domineering grandmother. Balrams brother Kishan is prematurely aged, already resembling their late father, showing the physical signs of exhaustion. Kishans family obligations are eating him alive (74). Balrams aversion from his family underscores Adigas message that in India the family is the problem, not the solution. In India loyalty to family is so intense that You were rude to your mother this morning would be morally the equivalent of You embezzled funds from the bank this morning.16

Violence as a Solution? For Balram, murder brings a sense of power and status and even a sense of ownership over the victim: Heres a strange fact: murder a man, and you feel responsible for his lifepossessive, even. You know more about him than his father and mother; they knew his fetus, but you know his corpse. Only you can complete the story of his life (38). Through violence, Balram breaks the shackles that hold him in bondage: I pierced his neckand his lifeblood spurted into my eyes. I was blind. I was a free man (246). The act of killing gives him his manhood: All I wanted was the chance to be a manand for that, one murder was enough (273). Balram revels in his

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existential act: Ill never say I made a mistake that night in Delhi when I slit my masters throat. Ill say it was all worthwhile to know, just for a day, just for an hour, just for a minute, what it means not to be a servant (276). In contrast to Bigger, who is sentenced to death, Balram thrives after the murder/robbery and multiplies the amount of money that he stole from Ashok. In deance of the remorse one might expect, Balram asks, Havent I succeeded in the struggle that every poor man here should be makingthe struggle not to take the lashes your father took, not to end up in a mound of indistinguishable bodies that will rot in the black mud of Mother Ganga? (273). He goes so far as to justify his murder as a commonplace act by ambitious men: But isnt it likely that everyone who counts in this world . . . has killed someone or other on their way to the top? Kill enough people and they will put up bronze statutes to you near Parliament House in Delhi (273). His slave revolt is not only necessary but historically determined: ambitious servants like the White Tiger weed out and replace their effete masters: Sometimes I think I will never get caught. I think the Rooster Coop needs people like me to break out of it. It needs masters like Ashokwho, for all his numerous virtues, was not much of a master to be weeded out, and exceptional servants like me to replace them (275). White Tiger illustrates Fanons theory that violence is a cleansing force that frees the colonized from their inferiority complex and gives them a measure of self-respect. The resentment that has built up from oppression nds an outlet in rage and rebellion. The colonized man nds his freedom in and through violence. Writing against his experience with French repression in Algeria, Fanon sounded a call to arms: Le dos au mur, le couteau sur la gorge o, peut tre plus prcis, llectrode sur les parties gnitales, le colonis va tre somm de ne plus se raconter dhistoires. Aprs des annes dirralisme, aprs stre vautr dans les phantasmes les plus tonnants, le colonis, sa mitraillette au poing, affronte enn les seules forces qui lui contestaient son tre: celle du colonialisme.17 [The natives back is to the wall, the knife is at his throat (or, more precisely, the electrode is at his genitals): he will have no more call for his fancies. After centuries of unreality, after having wallowed in the most outlandish phantoms, at long last the native, gun in hand, stands face to face with the only forces which contend for his lifethe forces of colonialism.]18

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There is no escape from violence when it comes to national liberation: decolonization is always a violent phenomenon. As Jean-Paul Sartre says in his preface to Fanons work: Gurirons-nous? Oui. La violence, comme la lance dAchille, peut cicatriser les blessures quelle a faites. Aujourdhui, nous sommes enchans, humilis, malades de peur: au plus bas. . . . Nous reculons chaque jour devant la bagarre mais soyez srs que nous ne lviterons pas : ils en ont besoin, les tueurs ; ils vont nous voler dans les plumes et taper dans le tas.19 [Will we recover? Yes. For violence, like Achilles lance, can heal the wounds that it has inicted. Today, we are bound hand and foot, humiliated and sick with fear; we cannot fall lower. . . . Every day we retreat in front of the battle, but you may be sure that we will not avoid it; the killers need it; theyll go for us and hit out blindly to left and right.]20 Adigas adaptation of Fanon introduces a signicant variation: while Fanon envisions revolt by the oppressed as a group, Balram acts on his own behalf. At a minimum, White Tiger sends a warning about the potential for violence if oppression continues. Adiga acknowledges James Baldwin as another important inuence on his work.21 In a distinguished collection of essays, The Fire Next Time, Baldwin warns that if whites do not drastically rethink their objections to equality, continuing injustice will deepen black despair and feed the res of violent revenge. (This is, sadly, a prediction of race riots that came true a few years later when King and Malcolm X were assassinated). Baldwin quotes a black hymn: God gave Noah the rainbow sign,/No more water, the re next time!22

Adigas Departures from Native Son: Balrams Success Both novelists describe the plight of a young man who feels hopelessly trapped in the lower class of a Manichean society, a protagonist who commits a brutal killing as he seeks to escape oppression and poverty. However, for all the similarities, there are marked differences between the two novels. The rst, and most obvious, is that Balram succeeds while Bigger fails.

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Bigger goes from the conned single bedroom cell in which he and his family consort with rats to a literal cell at the end of the novel, a holding pen where he awaits his eventual execution. An important part of Wrights message is the inevitability of Biggers failure, which has been hard wired into Biggers fate. He has been psychologically destroyed by the upbringing and experiences of his life. Wright here follows the naturalist ction of the 1930s that emphasizes determinism and in this respect differs from White Tiger. Bigger has a much more abbreviated relationship with Mr. Dalton than Balram has with Ashok. Bigger hardly knows Mr. Dalton: he commits the crime shortly after entering his service. Bigger in fact is never able to return Mr. Daltons gaze. He had not raised his eyes to the level of Mr. Daltons face once since he had been in the house. He stood with his knees slightly bent, his lips partly open, his shoulders stooped; and his eyes held a look that went only to the surface of things. There was an organic conviction in him that this was the way white folks wanted him to be when in their presence; none had ever told him that in so many words, but their manner had made him feel that they did. (4748) Balram in contrast assumes, quite falsely, that he has forged a bond with Ashok and become his friend. The gazes that are exchanged in the mirror reect the devolution of their relationship as Balram increasingly loses respect and Ashok loses his disciplinary power. Perhaps because he is not separated by color from his master, Balram is better able to identify with Ashok, leading him to envision himself as master and ultimately to fulll this role. Balram steals an enormous amount of money in connection with his crime. Bigger, on the other hand, only concocts a scheme for obtaining money from the Daltons after he has killed Mary: he writes a poorly written ransom note falsely claiming that he has kidnapped Mary and will release her if the Daltons pay $10,000. Balrams theftwhich far outweighs any sum that he could have earned in menial employment or from a modest dowryenables him to become an entrepreneur and a member of the propertied class. While Biggers highest aspiration is to become a pilot, Balrams is to start a business. Native Son contains a devastating critique of the criminal justice system. While Adiga limits his commentary to police corruption, Wright devotes a signicant part of the third and nal section of his book to the trial of Bigger Thomas and the harshness of the death penalty. Wright was inuenced by three infamous trials: an alleged rape that occurred in Alabama, in 1931, a murder committed by Robert Nixon in Chicago in 1938, and the Leopold and

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Loeb murder of Robert Franks in Chicago in 1924. In the Scottsboro case, nine young black men were arrested for alleged rape of two white women on the open car of a gondola train. The trial was an outrage in the U.S. legal system: an all-white jury returned convictions although there was no medical evidence of rape, one of the complainants was a known prostitute, and her companion admitted that the story was a fabrication to escape Mann Act charges.23 Robert Nixon, a young black male, was charged with breaking into a white womans bedroom and bludgeoning her to death. Like Bigger, Nixon confessed to the police that he had committed the crime and was executed. The press described him as a beast and compared him to an ape.24 Wright recalls this venom in the trial scene of Native Son, when Buckley, the states attorney, refers to Bigger as an ape, black lizard and a mad dog (412, 409). The trial in Native Son was closely modeled on the Leopold and Loeb case, in which two young Jewish graduate students at the University of Chicago killed a young white boy with a chisel.25 After the boys doused their victims body with acid and dumped him in a culvert, they wrote a ransom note demanding $10,000. These twisted killers demanded ransom, although they came from wealthy families and did not need the money. After an impassioned defense by Clarence Darrow that stressed the defendants youth and psychological condition, they were imprisoned, not executed. While Loeb died in a prison ght, Leopold was eventually released as a result of intervention by prominent supporters (including Adlai Stevenson and Carl Sandburg) and enjoyed a comfortable life in Puerto Rico. Ahead of his time, Wright focused attention on the inequitable administration of justice that condemns a poor black men like Nixon and Bigger to execution while rich white murderers Leopold and Loeb are allowed to live. Max argues, If anybody but a Negro boy were charged with murder, the States Attorney would not have rushed this case to trial and demanded the death penalty (376). When Max is challenged by Buckley to provide a precedent for his defense of Bigger, he references the Leopold and Loeb case and then asks: Shall we deny this boy, because he is poor and black, the same protections, the same chance to be heard and understood, that we have so readily granted to others? (376), Unfortunately, for Bigger the answer is yes: he will be denied the same protection, in spite of the fact that his killing of Mary was accidental. Maxs defense of Bigger echoes the rhetoric of the Communist Party. Wright had become a Communist in 1932; by 1944 he had left the party.26 Max asks the court to understand the dislocation of life of millions of people who, like Bigger, are smoldering with hatred as a result of the wrongs that

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have been done them (387). For all their easy philanthropic gestures, the Daltons and people like them gouge their black tenants through extortionate rents (393). Max characterizes Biggers killing as an existential act, an act of creation when all other avenues are closed: Listen: what Bigger Thomas did early that Sunday morning in the Dalton home and what he did that Sunday night in that empty building was but a tiny aspect of what he had been doing all his life long! He was living, only as he knew how, and as we have forced him to live. The actions that resulted in the death of those two women were as instinctive and inevitable as breathing or blinking ones eyes. It was an act of creation! (400) In the nal scene in the prison cell, Max tells Bigger that he is being killed by the men in skyscrapers who want to kill what they own, even if it makes others suffer (427). By 1940 Wright had become disillusioned with communism, among other reasons because it denied individualism. As Lawrence Hogue observes, Maxs appeal does not present Bigger as an individual but rather as a symbol, a representative gure, or a stereotyped gment of whites imagination.27 For all that Max tries to understand the forces that led Bigger to kill, when Bigger tells Max in their nal conversation What I killed for, I am (429), Max recoils in revulsion. Why does Bigger fail while Balram succeeds? Bigger is closed off from all avenues that lead out of the ghetto into the privileged world of meaningful work, political power, and material wealth. Wrights narrative is pessimistic, born of the hopelessness of the Biggers he had known, young black men who failed. Wright tells us in an interview that Biggers is the story and the psychological portrait of a young Negro who lives in the black ghetto of Chicago, unemployed, with all roads closed and with the constant logical temptation to escape the law.28 In contrast to Bigger, who has no role model and no way out, Balram embraces the role of entrepreneur and sees Ashoks bag of money as the ticket to success. While Adiga seeks to empower the poor so that they can escape from poverty, Balrams rhetoric is more capitalist than Marxist. Adiga writes in an era when Marxism has been discredited. Adiga is hardly optimistic that modern India will escape the snares of family and the deathtrap of corruption. Adiga recognizes that although there are lots of self-made millionaires in India now and lots of successful entrepreneurs, those who succeed are a small minority (287). Getting to the top takes something like what Balram has done (287). It is a rare breed of cat, the white tiger, who can escape the coop.

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The New Master Adigas adaptation of the Fanon/Wright criminal archetype incorporates the ideals of the new India. Balram becomes a mimic man, successfully aping the social and business practices of his former masters in a way that Bigger could not. Balram achieves his entrepreneurial destiny by starting his own taxi company and becoming the new Ashok: Once I was a driver to a master, but now I am a master of drivers (259). Violence was the solution to one mans oppression, because it enabled Balram to escape the rooster coop. On the other hand, the effect of the violence was to replace one master with another. Albert Memmi identies two responses that the colonized can make to their subjection. They can try to become like the colonizer, to adopt the colonizers skin, values, and lifestyle. But eventually they will realize that revolt is the only way out; their solution requires a break and not a compromise.29 Balram rst apes his master in supercial waysdrinking the same scotch and seeking out blond womenbut then comes to the realization that the only way to accomplish his goals is to kill his master and steal his money. Given the corruption of todays India, dishonesty is the only path to success, and violence replaces constructive protest. After the murder, Balram continues to emulate the behavior of his departed master. As he begins his taxi business in Bangalore, our white tiger asks himself: What would Mr. Ashok do? (256). Having learned the lessons of corruption of government ofcials from Ashoks family, Balram brings bags of money to police ofcers to ingratiate himself with them and inspire them to disrupt the taxi services offered by competitors (25758).30 At the end of the novel, one of Balrams drivers runs over a child, replicating the situation that Balram experienced when Pinky Madam killed a child while driving drunk. Like Ashok, Balram buys off police ofcers to avoid prosecution. However, there are two signicant differences: Balram assumes responsibility rather than allowing the driver to be punished and in addition offers generous compensation to the family of the dead child. Balram does not envision a color blind, masterless world: rather it is the yellow and the brown men who will be the new masters. The novel takes the form of a communiqu to Chinese premier Jiabao whom Balram purports to instruct on entrepreneurship. China is ahead of India in every way but one: India has entrepreneurs. The premier must learn from Balram, not from the Americans, because American learning is so yesterday (4). The future of the world lies with the yellow man and the brown man now that our erstwhile master, the white-skinned man, has wasted himself through

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buggery, cell phone usage, and drug abuse (34). The novel ends as it began, with Balrams proud and hopeful boast that in twenty years time, the white man will be nished: White men will be nished within my lifetime. There are blacks and reds too, but I have no idea what theyre up tothe radio never talks about them. My humble prediction: in twenty years time, it will be just us yellow men and brown men at the top of the pyramid, and well rule the whole world. And God save everyone else. (262) Underlying Native Son is Baldwins potent warning that continued suppression of black opportunity invites violent outbreak, individual and collective acts of revenge, as anger explodes. Underlying White Tiger is Fanons frightening message that violence is a necessary tool to achieve radical reform. The injustice and corruption of twenty-rst-century India is so deep rooted and so pervasive that the only way a poor man can better himself is by an act of aggression, even the extremes of theft or murder. But what has Balrams violence really achieved? Balram has bettered his own condition, but he has not created a better society. Adigas vision remains dystopic: he foresees a world where one thing will have changed, the color of the ruling class, but nothing else, because the Manichean division of master/slave will persist. University of Maryland, College Park

Notes
1. Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (New York: Free Press, 2008), 284. Hereafter cited by page number. 2. Aravind Adiga, interview, in White Tiger, 284. 3. Richard Wright, Native Son (New York: Harper Perennial, 1998 [1940]). Hereafter cited by page number. This edition includes Wrights well-known preface How Bigger Was Born, in which Wright responds to critics who disparaged the novel as excessively bitter in light of what some perceived as an improved climate of race relations in America. Further information on the genesis of the book can be found in Jerry Washington Ward and Robert Butler, The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008), 181. 4. Frantz Fanon, Les damns de la terre (New York: French and European Publications, 1987 [1961]), 21112; Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove, 1963), 223. 5. Abdul R. JanMohamed, The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature, Critical Inquiry 12.1 (1985): 63. 6. Christine MacLeod, Black American Literature and the Postcolonial Debate, in The Yearbook of English Studies: The Politics of Postcolonial Criticism, ed. Andrew Gurr (London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 1997), 5165; esp. 5455. 7. As MacLeod observes, Bigger reects the fear, self hatred, desire, rage, and aggression which for Fanon typied the psychopathology of the colonized (Black American Literature and the Postcolonial Debate, 55).

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8. W. Lawrence Hogue, Can the Subaltern Speak? A Postcolonial, Existential Reading of Richard Wrights Native Son, Southern Quarterly 46.2 (2009): 13. 9. Fanon, Les damns de la terre, 43; Wretched of the Earth, 52. 10. At the behest of Marys boyfriend Jan, Bigger takes the totally inebriated Mary to her bedroom. There is a mutual sexual attraction in the published novel: Her lips touched his, like something he had imagined. He stood her on her feet and she swayed against him (84). Out of concern for how the majority white audience might react, Wright altered the original version in which Mary initiated the advance (Yoshinobu Hakutani, Richard Wrights The Long Dream as Racial and Sexual Discourse, African American Review 30.2 [1996]: 275). 11. See Sheldon Brivic, Conict of Values: Richard Wrights Native Son, Novel: A Forum on Fiction 7.3 (1974): 234. 12. Homi Bhabha, Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse, in his The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994), 8592. 13. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Can the Subaltern Speak? in The Postcolonial Studies Reader, ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Grifths, and Helen Tifn (London: Routledge, 1995), 2428. 14. Adiga, interview, 286. 15. While Memmi sees religion as a refuge of the colonized and a foundation on which the colonized can forge a sense of identity, Balram mocks religion as a delusion. Religion is so frivolous a concept to Adiga that he feigns piety, pretending to worship at temples when he seeks a reprieve from his duties. Here Balram brings to mind the sly civility of Bhabhas colonial subject who lies to his master (Bhabha, Location of Culture, 143). 16. Adiga, interview, 304. 17. Fanon, Les damns de la terre, 58. 18. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 58. 19. Jean-Paul Sartre, preface, Les damns de la terre, 36. 20. Jean-Paul Sartre, preface, Wretched of the Earth, 3031. 21. Adiga, interview, 286. 22. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (New York: Random House, 1993 [1963]), 106. 23. For a detailed account of the repeated trials of the Scottsboro boys and the U.S. Supreme courts landmark ruling in the case, see Claudia Durst Johnson, Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historic Documents (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994); Douglas O. Linder, Without Fear or Favor: Judge Edwin Horton and the Trial of the Scottsboro Boys, UKMC Law Review 68.4 (2000): 54983. 24. The Chicago Tribune in particular likened Nixon to a jungle beast. See Bennett Capers, The Trial of Bigger Thomas: Race, Gender, and Trespass, NYU Review of Law and Social Change 31.1 (2006): 149. 25. See Robert Butler, The Loeb and Leopold Case: A Neglected Source for Richard Wrightss Native Son, African American Review 39.4 (2005): 55567. 26. Louis Tremaine is among those who argue that Maxs role as a mouthpiece for the Communist Party has been overdrawn. See The Disassociated Sensibility of Bigger Thomas, in Richard Wrights Native Son, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1988), 89104. Tremaine sees him as a mouthpiece for Bigger; he possesses a vast audience and commands the language, thus enabling Biggers story to be told in the courtroom (102). 27. Hogue, Can the Subaltern Speak? 31. 28. A Conversation with Richard Wright, the Author of Native Son, in Conversations with Richard Wright, ed. Kenneth Kinnamon and Michael Fabre (Jackson: University of Press of Mississippi), 32. 29. Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), 121, 127. 30. V. S. Naipul describes the slightly ridiculous gures of the new colonial masters who ape the mannerisms of the colonialists they have displaced, riding, for example, the same government cars driven by chauffeurs (The Mimic Men [Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1981], 190).

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